Opened last summer, the Nano Nagle Centre is the new kid on the block on Cork’s eclectic visitor trail and is a must for any visitor looking for something a little different, something beyond the typical museum or gallery experience. The €10.5 million refurbishment of a historic convent and school as a heritage centre serves as a fantastic living showcase of one of Ireland’s greatest social justice pioneers.
Located just a 10 minute walk from our city-centre boutique hotel, Hotel Isaacs, the Nano Nagle Centre is a haven of tranquillity minutes away from the hustle and bustle of life. Comprising a heritage centre, peaceful gardens, a design shop and café, the Nano Nagle Centre provides the visitor with an interesting interactive exhibition into the world of 18th century Cork, a city of squalor and poverty repressed by the Penal Laws (laws limiting the rights of Catholics). It then takes a more personal turn by delving into the fascinating life of Nano Nagle, a wealthy, educated lady from North Cork who decided to give up her comfortable life of glamour and frivolity to become a nun and establish a series of secret schools in the city to educate the poorest of Cork, a cause that eventually led to her decline and death in 1784. Indeed, at the time of her death, the “Lady of the Lamp” (as she was affectionately known) had opened seven schools, established an almshouse for poor women and of course, spearheaded the creation of the Presentation Order, an Order of Nuns that continues her education and social inclusion mission today. Inspired yet?
The centre is full of artefacts from the life of this remarkable lady including the door to one of her schools, her private parlour, her bonnet, jewellery and personal portraits. Despite the heavy subject matter, don’t be fooled into thinking this is a serious and dull visitor exhibition best suited to historians or school groups. With lots of audio-visual displays, buttons to push and even an 18th century ‘photo booth’, I can safely say that this centre is a living breathing source of inspiration in our city. It expertly connects the past and present by showcasing the current work being done by the Sisters across the globe.
Even if history isn’t your thing, the grounds are free to access and are well worth a visit. Descend into the lower grounds to see the actual tomb of Nano Nagle or wander around the upper grounds enjoying the calm, have a coffee in their newly opened café or get in touch with your creative side at their art and craft shop.
I love museums! I love galleries! However, what I love more is a visitor experience that does more than merely educate and entertain me with pretty things. The Nano Nagle Centre does all of this and more. It is real flesh and blood- so much more than a memorial to the past but a true success story in how the past can inform the present to inspire the future.
Colette is a hotel receptionist working at Hotel Isaacs Cork. Her favourite part of the job is meeting the many guests coming from all corners of the globe and sharing with them all the wonders that Cork City and County has to offer. One of her great passions is travelling and exploring new places especially museums, galleries and castles. "One of the things I feel very strongly about is how so many people in Ireland are completely unaware of some of the hidden treasures right on their door-steps. When people go abroad, they push themselves to see all the cultural delights on offer but too often, they have no idea how great what is right in front of them, readily available every day is. I came to Cork as a student in 2008 and I too limited myself and didn't push myself to explore. It took a friend to take me off and show me how truly amazing this city and county is and this is what I want to share with my guests and readers.